Detachable PS5 disc drive; a physical vs digital piece

 A separate Disc drive for gaming consoles; Yay or nay?

A few weeks ago, word spread that Sony is reportedly planning on a refresh for their PS5consoles. It’s no secret that the current generation was off to a rocky start thanks to the pandemic. It lead to a chip shortage, supply constraints and troubles in shipping that impacted the availability negatively. Sony just doesn´t seem to be able to produce and ship the number of PS5 consoles it wants to.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that Sony has been reworking the PS5 internally; the console isn’t two years old yet it has already gotten two revisions. The rumour that has now reared its head is that Sony is working on a big revision for 2023. A relaunch; one that foregoes the two SKUs (physical and digital) in favour of just one. An all-digital PS5 but alongside an external disc drive people can also buy should they want to game with physical media.

So, without further ado, let’s talk about this supposed revision and the ever-continuing march of the video game industry towards the ‘all-digital’ future.

PS5 scarcity and running chances 


The ‘new-gen’ consoles, the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S launched in late 2020. Both companies had been working up to launching these consoles in 2020 for years and both have a cheaper digital-only option. Both companies also pushed through with releasing these consoles even with the covid pandemic causing problems. The world shut down for months, leading to supply constraints, the supply chain getting disrupted and all that.


Launching your brand new product in such conditions is not ideal but Sony and Microsoft went for it anyway. The result? Well, their launches weren’t disastrous or anything like that but I wouldn’t call them strong either. The line-up that first year wasn’t very strong all due to work-at-home orders leading to game delays. Halo Infinite for instance was meant to be there at launch but ended up coming out a full year later. Supply issues were rampant; getting your hands on these consoles was very difficult. Just walking into a brick-and-mortar store didn’t cut it. These consoles are still scarce; when I got mine last year I was very surprised I managed to get one in the first place. 


Sony & Microsoft combated these problems very differently. It’s pretty clear Microsoft prioritized the all-digital Xbox Series S, smaller and less powerful and thus cheaper to produce to an extent. It is also said that they paid for chip priority. Nothing has ever been proven so it could be that they didn’t, but I’m betting they did. It seems like something they’d do. They got the money, that’s for sure. 

Sony, meanwhile, has been working on making their console cheaper to produce and shop by revisioning them. Both 2021 and 2022 saw new versions. Sony has shrunk down the heatsink in both with the 2022 one also toying with the motherboard. Both revisions made the consoles lighter and cheaper to produce. Less material is needed, you know. The latter also uses less power which, you know, is a very nice bonus for us gamers. 


The ‘new’ PS5


This is where the rumour comes into play. They state that Sony is planning a full-on new version of the PS5 for some time in or after September 2023. This would be a smaller and leaner PS5 that foregoes the digital and physical versions in favour of just one digital console alongside an external disc drive as an accessory for those who want to game with physical media. Does sound a bit weird, I know, but I find it has appeal to it from a consumer perspective as well. 


Let´s start with Sony´s point of view. I think it´s clear by now that by redesigning the PS5 more thoroughly they hope to make it cheaper, lighter and smaller. The current models of the PS5 are big, heavy and, well, overdesigned. The size and weight have been bothering people, it's cumbersome, and all the revisions Sony shows that the safety margin they took with stuff like the heatsink was perhaps too large if they can shrink the heatsink that much without affecting the performance and safety. 


Foregoing the two separate models in favour of just one comes with quite a few benefits. If there´s only one SKU of PS5 this means all the logistics surrounding the two models will be gone. No need for differences in the assembly line, packaging, shipping, managing the store availability and order etc. Sony would need to produce the disc drive add-on but that would give them more freedom than they have now in the above regards. 


Oh, and don’t worry about the looks/form factor. The report does mention that the detachable disc drive will be integrated into the design ´seamlessly´. How they achieve this will be interesting to see. My money is below the console ala Sega Mega Drive. 


For the consumer, you’d have more choice. If you’d bought the all-digital version and got buyer’s remorse, for example, then you wouldn’t need to invest in an entirely new PS5; just the disc drive. Same with if a grandparent or uncle or the like buys their grandkid/cousin a physical game, instead of having to return it, they could buy a disc-drive add-on. Win-win in more than just one way. 

The all-digital consoles introduced this generation: the PS5 all-digital edition and the Xbox Series S.

They could even make it compatible with the current all-digital PS5. People have opened that system up and found that connecting it to an external disc drive using one of the USB ports could work; it’s just that Sony has disabled this feature on the software level. In other words: it’s just one patch away. 

The all-digital future

A downside to this model is that it’s yet another step forward to the ‘all-digital future. Where games only launch digitally on each console's storefront. For the platform holders, this model is preferable to physical releases. They have a lot more control over the games, are a lot more profitable and a lot less difficult to get to the games out there. And it’s booming, just like all digital media. It’s why this all-digital console exists in the first place. Staying with Sony, 80% of all games they sold in 2021 were digital. From Sony’s perspective, it’s not just better all around, but what the consumers want.

Side mini-rant: I dislike these numbers for the simple reason that the physical vs digital competition is not an even one. Since platform holders are better off when games buy their games from their digital storefronts, storefronts they control, they’ve heavily skewed toward the digital front. From big sales on the digital store only, to incentives such as special pre-order bonuses. These companies do whatever they can to make people buy digital over physical.

It’s for this reason that I don’t like these comparisons as Sony and others present it as ‘this is what the people want instead of ‘this is the fruits of our labour pushing people towards digital.

But I digress. Back to the point I wanted to make. For those of us who prefer physical media, this is another push towards the all-digital future. From where it’s now normal that these consoles don’t have a disc drive in their design. That’s an option you have to go out of your way to have. Not the standard. I’m hoping that, like with DVDs and CDs, a small but still store available market of physical games remains for the big hitters; the AAA titles. And that’s all I have to say about that.

……….

The rumours about Sony planning on a new PS5 model are, keeping in mind it´s not by all means confirmed, of course, interesting. It´s no secret Sony has had issues producing and distributing the PS5 and this new model could just be the solution. It could be a smaller, lighter and more appealing console for the consumer. That the model will only come in one SKU, the digital one, and you´d have to buy a separate disc drive to play with discs is a bit weird but it has its upsides for sure. If you want to switch later, you don´t have to buy a brand-new console to play physical games. Easier to repair if it breaks is one I just remembered.

There are downsides, a release like this can normalize gaming consoles launching without any way to play physical media. That is something I and many dread, but there´s no way to tell how that´ll work out. For now, it´s just a rumour, but an interesting one. One I find has more appeal than I initially gave it credit for.

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